Thinx, the period panties company that launched in 2011, started off by making a big mark on the menstrual cycle industry. The idea was simple: panties that women can bleed right into, eliminating the need to buy disposable sanitary pads and therefore creating less waste. The idea proved to be popular.
In its sixth year, Thinx had nearly $40 million in revenues. Executives said sales at the start-up were even higher last year, as the company continues to raise venture capital money, still clearly in growth mode. The private company, which started with just three people, has also grown to include 67 employees, and has plans to grow to around 80 by the end of 2019.
People are talking about periods. But it wasn’t always this way.
Monthly menstrual cycles first became a topic of water cooler conversations back in 2015 after images of juicy grapefruits and dripping egg yolks adjacent to women donning little more than Thinx panties showed up on subway platforms in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C. (The Manhattan Transit Authority initially deemed the images too sexy. But after some public pushback, the ads were allowed to run in New York, sparking a conversation about something that had previously been considered unacceptable to discuss in polite company.)
“We were the first company to really take on the taboo of periods and talk about them in a really straightforward and unique way in a very public environment,” Siobhán Lonergan, chief brand officer at Thinx, told WWD. “We have an innovative product; it’s the period-proof underwear. This is a game-changer relative to the category and what has been on the market to date. Really, there hasn’t been any innovation since 1937.”
That was the year actress Leona Chalmers invented the modern-day menstrual cup. Since then there has been some innovation in disposable products, such as adding adhesive to the back of pads or tampons with strings. But Lonergan said Thinx was the first company to disrupt the female sanitary products industry in decades. Not only did Thinx create a new product, but the company had invented a more sustainable alternative to what was already available: underwear that could be reused and therefore wouldn’t end up in a landfill. And the timing seemed to be perfect as sustainability was growing increasingly important to Millennial and Gen Z shoppers.
But then issues started to arise. Some customers said the panties didn’t make it to the two-year mark, which is how long they’re guaranteed for. And at almost $40 a pair — (prices range from $24 to $39 for underwear) — the products were expensive. Plus, since each pair has to be hand-washed and dried, that meant women would have to buy multiple pairs, investing hundreds of dollars in their underwear drawers. It might take years to justify the cost.
In 2017, Miki Agrawal, cofounder and chief executive officer of Thinx was outed after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, casting a negative light on the company. All of this proved to be beneficial for copycat companies hoping to capitalize off the popularity and convenience of period panties with their own versions, usually with additional innovations.
Even so, Lonergan said all the attention isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s created a movement where women are comfortable talking about their periods in public.
“We get so many people who say, ‘I got my first Thinx. Now, I’m excited for my period to come,'” Lonergan said. “We always want to talk about it straight. You know your period, it’s probably not the best day of the week. But at the same time it shouldn’t be so dreaded and it shouldn’t make you feel less confident.
“What we’re building is really a platform for offering solutions for leaking, for a multigenerational audience,” Lonergan continued. “That is kind of what we believe is our superpower.”
Thinx now has even more superpowers in the form of new products — the Thinx Super — and Lonergan says women everywhere should give them a try.
The panties, available in hip-hugger and cotton brief versions, land online at Shethinx.com on July 9. Up close, the panties are thick, almost quilt-like, and claim to hold up to four tampons worth of menstrual flow — double the amount of Thinx’s original collection — while fighting odors, preventing leaks and remaining comfortable. Lonergan said Thinx Super lets even women with the heaviest of periods skip pads or tampons.
WWD caught up with Lonergan to learn more about the Super edition, how the company has evolved and what’s next, including plans to woo new shoppers.
WWD: Can you talk about the new technology in Thinx Super?
Siobhán Lonergan: We went out to our consumer to find out how we could really improve our product. What we found was that although our current product could hold up to two tampons, it wasn’t sufficient for a really heavy flow. So we went back to the drawing board and we created Thinx Super, which absorbs up to four tampons worth of your flow and is basically our most absorbent period-proof undie. What we wanted to do was give double the absorbency and double the protection. That was really our strategy, to innovate against our core products, to improve our core. We definitely wanted to talk to pad users, knowing that 62 percent of U.S. consumers are using pads. We wanted to give them an alternative, especially for those with heavy periods.
We introduced new materials [with Thinx Super] that work better and faster. Specifically, the fabric that is closest to your skin, is our moisture wick in there. That’s a new material that wipes moisture faster away from your body. Under that we have a super absorbent layer. We’ve also introduced a new material there that even absorbs more fluid. And finally, we increased the size of the gusset, which includes a larger area in terms of where fluid can be absorbed. Those are just three big components of our new super technology and using more advanced materials and more absorbent materials to create better solutions for people with heavy periods.
WWD: How will Thinx continue to differentiate itself from other period panties with so many new entrants in the market?
S.L.: We will continue to innovate, make sure we have the best product on the market, and then we’ll innovate through marketing as well, which is through our brand voice. And that’s going to be really continuing to leverage our mission, which is to empower everybody through innovative solutions and social change. It’s all about being true to who you are.
We always think of competition as a must in this industry, because these taboos need to be changed. They can’t be changed by one single business. As long as there are a lot of people saying the same thing, change will happen, and ultimately, people with periods will have better solutions, more sustainable solutions. We’re all working to change the conversation, making something that should be natural, not a taboo for a lot of future generations.
WWD: What are Thinx’s plans for its current round of fundraising?
S.L.: We’re at a point where we’re talking to investors in order to basically get to the next level. We want to do a lot more top-of-funnel brand marketing and really engage with more consumers, give people more education around our product and really capture more areas beyond what we’ve been reaching so far.
WWD: Will there be another subway campaign?
S.L.: That’s what we’re working for. I think you’ll see a lot of activity from us in Q4 of this year.
WWD: What would you say to customers who are skeptical about the products? Or, who have tried Thinx but didn’t like them, in order to win them back over?
S.L.: I would urge anyone who is on the fence to take them for a test drive. I don’t think there’s that much to lose. We have a 60-day, money-back guarantee. If you don’t like them, you can return them and get your money back. If you’re skeptical and kind of worried about it, try it when you have your period over the weekend. If you’re at home, go solo. Ditch your pads and tampons and try Thinx. And gradually, over time, get to know what they can do for you and your flow. And hopefully, little by little, you gain the confidence to go out into the world with your Thinx and lean into them. If we can strike that balance between feeling well and good and empowered, that’s where we want to be.”
WWD: The underwear is guaranteed for two years, or 25 washes. What would you say to customers who say they wore out earlier than that?
S.L.: A lot of the things that we’ve found that go wrong are when people don’t wash them in the right way, or they put them in the tumble dryer. We often take on queries and try to coach people on how to take care of their things. We did have an issue with our lace unraveling on our hip-huggers last year and what we did was replace that. Now we have an extra durable lace. And that has been getting some excellent comments in terms of durability. We’re constantly striving to better our products, so we listen to our customers all the time. We believe that if you take care of them and wash them correctly that [the products] can last up to two years and perform throughout that time.
WWD: What changes has Thinx made to its corporate culture with the addition of the new ceo?
S.L.: In 2017, when we hired our new ceo [Maria Molland] — I had joined in March of 2017 — she went about a really thorough exercise to make sure that all of our internal policies and issues were resolved, relative to making sure that every employee here feels happy and that they feel empowered within their role here. We’re very proud of our internal policies and we continue to learn and build from there.